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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Secondary Drowning

Is secondary drowning on your radar? If not, it should be.


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You know you need to watch the kids like a hawk in the pool this summer. The fact that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death in children ages 1–14 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not escaped you.

But is secondary-drowning on your radar? That’s when your child swallows water from a near-drowning experience (she goes under water for a few seconds, gets caught at the bottom of a waterslide, etc.), gets rescued, and is seemingly okay. The fact is, the remaining water in her lungs can cause fatal complications such as pulmonary edema, cardiac arrest, asphyxiation, or other problems leading to death. The super scary part? Many times, these problems go unnoticed until it’s too late.


What to Know

Your child may act completely normal

After a near-drowning incident, your child might cough or breathe heavily for a few minutes, but then seem to recover. Secondary drowning symptoms are rarely obvious and often don’t present themselves until hours later.

Secondary drowning can occur between 2 and 72 hours after a near-drowning incident

If your child has a near-drowning experience, she should be closely monitored for up to 72 hours, even if she only inhaled a small amount of water.

There are warning signs—be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

• sudden and drastic changes in behavior, such as moodiness
• respiratory difficulty, such as labored or irregular breathing
• extreme fatigue
• urinary or bowel control issues
• slurred speech

A minor symptom could mean major problems

Even if symptoms seem insignificant, call your doctor the second you notice anything irregular. A trip to the emergency room for treatment at the first sign of trouble could save your child’s life.

Experienced kid swimmers are not exempt

Be aware that near-drowning experiences can happen to anyone at anytime regardless of how well they swim. Children should always be closely monitored while swimming, even if they are good swimmers.


How common is it?

It is a relatively common occurrence for children to inhale or swallow water at the pool—the vast majority of these instances will be very insignificant with little risk of lung damage. Regardless of the severity, remain aware of the symptoms of secondary drowning and take note of anything abnormal after a day at the pool or beach. Familiarize anyone taking care of your kids (sitter, grandparent, friend) with the risks and symptoms of secondary drowning.

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